The Suns proved Wednesday that they have what it takes to stop the likes of Manu Ginobli and the Spurs with a convincing 112-101 win.
But the Thunder are a totally different animal … or maybe “arachnid” is more appropriate.
With the Durantula AKA Kevin Durant leading the Thunder, they are a very serious threat any night of the week. Durant, the league’s leading scorer at 29.9 ppg, has the ability to take over a game and single-handedly win it if the circumstances are right.
“I don’t think you can slow him down,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after Wednesday’s win. “I think right now he’s the best offensive player in the NBA.”
The Suns are well aware of how dangerous the Durantula is, as he has bit them before. Durant went for 38 points to help beat the Suns in US Airways Center in December. When the Suns tied the season series in Oklahoma City with a last0second basket from Jason Richardson in February, Durant finished with 36 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s not like he struggles against us,” Gentry said. “He’s one of those unique guys.”
Thus if the Suns want to head home with a win and keep pace with their competitors in the Western Conference, they’ll need to make sure the circumstances aren’t right for Durant to take over.
“[Durant] is a player who scores at will,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said Wednesday. “You’ve got to make sure the other guys don’t really have a great game.”
Bingo. Thank you, Amare. It seems like the Thunder are the opponent most Suns fans would like to see in the first round of the playoffs due to their inexperience in the postseason, but a series with the cast of characters Oklahoma City posses may not be as easy as it seems.
Russell Westbrook puts in 16.3 points per game for OKC and Jeff Green is adds 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. Off the bench, James Harden is contributing 9.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. Not exactly a one-man team.
As Stoudemire pointed out, stopping those players will be the key in this game. Everyone has accepted that Durant is going to have a good game. It’s inevitable. But if he gets no support, the game changes. Perfect example: March 28 vs. the Trail Blazers. Durant scores 29, but Westbrook and Green go for 12 and 14, respectively. Trail Blazers win 92-87. With a little more from each guy, the Thunder win that game.
So it may take some of that signature 2010 Suns defense (still sounds weird) that seems to make appearances every few games for Phoenix to beat a team also fighting for playoff seeding in the bunched-up Western Conference.
The Thunder have slid to the eighth spot in the wild, wild West where NO ONE wants to be. If they stay there, they have to play the Lakers in the first round (though, that doesn’t seem as scary lately). They’ll be playing to move up.
The Suns sit in fourth place because Dallas would win a tiebreaker for third place as a division winner. But with just four games left, the two spot is still in play and the Suns have made it clear that they want it. At the least, the Suns will be playing to stay in the hunt for home-court advantage.
The Mavericks take on the Trail Blazers tonight and the Jazz have the Hornets. Wins from Portland and New Orleans would certainly help the Suns, but they aren’t really concerned with any games but their own.
“We control our own destiny,” Richardson said. “If we just win games, we’ll put ourselves in pretty good position.”